Campbell himself was prosecuted under the existing official secrets legislation in the 1970s with John Berry and Crispin Aubrey, in what became a test case known as the "ABC trial". He was given a conditional discharge.
When he revealed widespread criticism of the planned new law amongst NGOs, the commissioners opened a public consultation. It lists a number of conclusions or recommendations, and invites individuals and organisations to give their views on them before 3 April 2017.
"A very serious threat to freedom of expression"
ECPMF’s Legal Affairs Committee issued this statement:
“While the Law Commission's report is obviously carefully researched, it seems to adopt, with regard to leaks of official data, a very one-sided approach. On the face of it, its proposals appear to threaten journalists and whistleblowers with much more severe criminal sanctions than are currently available. While it sets out no maximum recommended sentence, the only example it gives is that of Canada, where the maximum sentence is 14 years. Moreover, worryingly, it combines this threat of severe criminal sanctions with a proposal not only to remove the test of requiring any prosecution to prove damage – replacing this with a much lower standard of 'reasonable belief' that conduct 'might prejudice national security' (which is not to be defined) – but also with a proposal for what appears to be effectively a new strict liability offence of receiving or possessing official information. Put together, these proposals appear to pose a very dangerous threat to freedom of expression in the UK."
In addition to stiffer sentences, there are also moves to make it easier for the Crown (government) to prove that the law has been broken, and to ignore the long-held principle that prosecuting those who reveal official secrets will sometimes prove more damaging than the revelations themselves, because it will result in far greater publicity when brought to court.
And they propose that people who reveal official secrets may be tried in secret courts, with members of the public excluded (this includes journalists).
The ECPMF and its partners will continue following the proposed law's developments closely.